High-level meetings on Libya topped the schedules of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. Obama and Clinton met briefly with Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of Libya’s Transitional National Council, before heading into a meeting of the Friends of Libya, a group of international partners that have pledged support to a democratic transiton in the North African nation.
“Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one,” Obama said before going into the meeting. He celebrated the “successful” international cooperation, both military and diplomatic, that led to the fall of dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi and supported democratic opposition to his rule. “This is how the international community should work in the 21st century—more nations bearing the responsibility and costs of meeting global challenges,” Obama said.
The Libyan people “have a friend and partner in the United States of America," Obama said. He also didn't rule out continuing military involvement, saying that “so long as the Libyan people are being threatened,” the NATO-led mission “will continue.” Obama also promised humanitarian support, and support for U.N. efforts to nurture democratic institutions.
Obama vowed that the wealth Qaddafi “squandered” must return to the Libyan people, and mentioned unfreezing the Qaddafi regime’s assets and the resumption of oil production. Yet he did not give a timeline for when those $33 billion in assets frozen by the U.S. Treasury would be available or specify the role America is expected to play in the restoration of Libya’s oil fields.
“Although we are a rich country, we require assistance,” T.N.C. chairman Jalil said, in a speech that preceded Obama's. The T.N.C. expects U.N. assistance, particularly humanitarian aid, Jalil added. He sought to “reassure everyone” present that Libya's new government would respect human rights, uphold peace and stability, and elect its officials.
The pre-Qaddafi Libyan flag flew outside the United Nations this morning, a change that marked U.N. recognition of the T.N.C. as Libya's legitimate governing authority.
U.S. positions on Libya, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be closely watched as Obama and Clinton spend the next few days at the meetings. The Palestinians are expected to bring a statehood bid to the United Nations Security Council on Friday, a move strongly opposed by the U.S. and Israel.
Obama and Clinton have a packed schedule of bilateral meetings and photo-ops on Wednesday. They will meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and later Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Obama met with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, but Karzai is leaving the UN meeting early to return to Afghanistan after an Afghan leader considered vital to peace efforts was reported killed Tuesday. Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani died Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated inside Rabbani’s Kabul home, CNN reported.